Serving up downtown success: Local owners, chef offer tips for building a long-lasting restaurant

April 30, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY |

What is the secret to operating a long-lasting, successful restaurant in downtown Hagerstown? Some restaurants keep their doors open for years and years; others last for a few months and then close.

The Herald-Mail visited with two restaurant owners, a former owner and a chef. We asked about their secrets for business success in downtown Hagerstown. They are:

  •  Charlie Sekula, host and former owner of Schmankerl Stube, which opened in 1988.
  •  Paul Deputy, co-owner of The Gourmet Goat and GG's Restaurant & Martini Bar, which opened in 2000.
  •  Michael Barry, chef and kitchen manager, Bulls & Bears, which opened in 2008.
  •  Bernard Paul, owner of Uncle Louie G's Homemade Gourmet Italian Ices and Ice Cream, which opened in 2009.

The conclusion? There is no one secret that works for everybody. But the four downtown restaurateurs discussed about what works for them — basics like listening to customer feedback, plus counterintuitive concepts like cooperating with your competitors.

Appeal to more than one kind of customer.

Michael Barry: Daytime, we have a lot of business people, and it has to be quick — fast in and out — because they don't have a long lunch break. Then there's also the afternoon drinkers, especially in summer. They come in and sit and meet up with a friend they haven't seen in a while.

Bernard Paul: Here, we have a lot of residents. So I see a lot of people who come and get ice. And during the day, we have a lot of people who come through (from businesses and) from the Alexander House. So it's a lot of locals.

Paul Deputy: We consider the front part a deli-coffee bar; we call it The Gourmet Goat. We consider the back part GG's Restaurant & Martini Bar. During the day, it's all one. At nighttime, just the back space is open.

Take advantage of activities that draw people downtown.

Paul Deputy: Shows are very important for downtown. You've got The Maryland Theatre, a huge asset to us. Every time they have a concert, every time they have the (Maryland Symphony Orchestra), every time they have a special show, all the restaurants downtown benefit.

Michael Barry: We absolutely love The Maryland Theatre. Initially, when we opened, it was very difficult, because you go from completely empty to 250 seats full within five minutes because everybody's going to the show. (Also,) there's live music on Friday with Wind Down Fridays. And Blues Fest is coming up. There's a lot of things to do downtown. But people don't always know what (is going on).

Bernard Paul: The (Washington County Free) Library — before it was (gutted for renovation), I used to have a lot of kids go over there to get DVDs, then come here to get some ice.

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